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Earl Grey Tea

Earl Grey's Flavor, History, Caffeine Levels, Types & More

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An image of Rishi Organic Earl Grey Tealeaves.

This Earl Grey tea from Rishi Tea is a blend of Yunnan black tea and bergamot essential oil.

Marko Goodwin
Earl Grey tea is one of the most popular teas in the West, and is likely the most popular flavored tea in the world. In America, Earl Grey is sometimes spelled 'Earl Gray' instead, though this is not a generally accepted spelling of the name.

Earl Grey's Flavor

Earl Grey is a black tea, so it usually has a bold flavor. Unlike Orange Pekoe (which is a tea grade named for the Dutch royal House of Orange-Nassau), Earl Grey has a citrusy flavor.

Earl Grey's citrusy taste is due to the addition of natural or synthetic bergamot oil. (Bergamot orange is a type of aromatic citrus fruit that is usually grown in the Mediterranean, and bergamot oil is extracted from the skin of the bergamot fruit.)

Although Earl Grey varies from producer to producer, its taste is often described as bright, refreshing and bold.

Earl Grey's History

Earl Grey is named after a person, Earl Charles Grey of Britain. Charles Grey was prime minister of England from 1830 through 1834, and although he abolished slavery during his time in office, he is most remembered for his namesake tea.

It is said that the recipe for Earl Grey tea was given to Earl Charles Grey when he saved the son of a tea blender in China from drowning. Story goes that the recipe for scenting and flavoring black tea with bergamot oil was given to him as a thanks for this good deed. In reality, it is highly unlikely that Earl Charles Grey ever visited China, much less saved a drowning boy there, and today, no one knows why Charles Grey was honored by having a tea named after him. However, Earl Grey was named around Charles Grey's time in office, so the name could have simply been a nod to a powerful political leader.

More recently, Earl Grey tea has made a number of appearances in popular culture. It is a favorite of Star Trek: The Next Generation's Captain Picard, as well as The Davinci Code's Sir Leigh Teabing.

Caffeine in Earl Grey

The caffeine content of Earl Grey varies from type to type, but it is generally comparable to other black teas. This would place regular Earl Grey tea (or as it is sometimes incorrectly called 'caffeinated Earl Grey') around 55 to 90 mg of caffeine per cup, and decaf Earl Grey at around two to 10 mg per cup.

For more information on caffeine levels in black teas like Earl Grey, see this article on Caffeine Levels in Coffee, Tea & Other Drinks and this article on Factors Influencing Caffeine Levels in Tea.

Types of Earl Grey Tea

Earl Grey is so popular that it has spawned a number of similar teas. One of the most popular of these is Lady Grey, which is usually a blend of Earl Grey and blue cornflower blossoms. Other popular Earl Grey variations include Russian Earl Grey (Earl Grey with pieces of citrus peel mixed in), Decaf Earl Grey, Earl Red / Red Earl Grey / Earl Rooibos (a bergamot-flavored rooibos) and Earl Green (a bergamot-flavored green tea or, in some cases, a bergamot-flavored pouchong / baozhong). Some tea companies offer other stately names (such as Mademoiselle Grey or Lord Grey), which are blended with spices, flowers (such as rose petals or lavender) or other ingredients.

Some coffeeshops and tea shops also offer a drink called London Fog, which is a 'tea latte' made from Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup.

How to Make & Enjoy Earl Grey

Like many black teas, Earl Grey is fairly easy to prepare. To brew Earl Grey tea, you'll need a teapot, some Earl Grey tealeaves and some good quality water that is nearly boiling or boiling.

Some people prefer to pre-warm their teapot with hot water, which helps maintain the steeping temperature. To do this, simply pour boiling water into the teapot, wait a minute, and then discard the water.

To make Earl Grey, use about one teaspoon of tealeaves (or one regular-sized teabag) per cup of hot water. Steep in boiling or near boiling water for four to five minutes, depending on the tea and your flavor preferences. Then, remove the tealeaves (or teabag).

Some people enjoy sugar and / or lemon in their Earl Grey. While it is not traditional to add milk to citrusy teas, some Americans also enjoy milk in their Earl Grey.

Earl Grey tea is one of my Top Ten Teas for Afternoon Tea. It pairs very well with many sweets, such as scones, Madeline cakes and lavender cookies. Earl Grey is also a great tea for brunch pairings.

How to Buy Earl Grey Tea

Earl Grey is available in most Western grocery stores, tea shops and gourmet foods stores, as well as on most online tea retail sites. I recommend opting for loose-leaf Earl Grey over Earl Grey teabags. If you prefer a strong black tea flavor, a base tea from Kenya, Ceylon or Assam is usually a good choice. If you prefer a milder black tea flavor, a base tea from Nilgiri or Darjeeling will be better for you. If you like a smooth, rich black tea flavor, try an Earl Grey with a Yunnan or Keemun base.

If you want to try a variety of types of Earl Grey, you might also want to check out companies with Earl Grey tea samplers or flavored tea of the month clubs.

For more information on buying different brands of Earl Grey, see these Earl Grey tea recommendations from a former site guide and check out my reviews of David Rio's Organic Earl Grey Teabags, Steven Smith Teamaker's Lord Bergamot Tea and Rishi Tea's Organic Earl Grey Tea.

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